Biotechnology – Science & Technology Notes

Introduction to Biotechnology

Biotechnology refers to the use of living organisms or their products to make useful products or to solve problems. The field of biotechnology has been growing rapidly in recent years and has many applications in areas such as agriculture, medicine, industry, and environmental management.

Definition of Biotechnology

Biotechnology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by biological agents to provide goods and services.

According to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, biotechnology is defined as any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.

Brief History of Biotechnology

  • The first known biotechnological process is beer production, which dates back to 6000 BC in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
  • In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, which led to a better understanding of genetics and laid the foundation for modern biotechnology.
  • In the 1970s, the first genetically modified organism (GMO) was created, which paved the way for modern biotechnology applications such as gene therapy and genetically modified crops.

In the 20th century, advances in genetics and microbiology led to the development of recombinant DNA technology, which allows scientists to manipulate the genetic material of living organisms. This breakthrough led to the development of a wide range of new technologies, including gene therapy, genetically modified crops, and synthetic biology.

Importance of Biotechnology in Modern Society

Biotechnology has a wide range of applications and has become increasingly important in modern society. Some of the key areas in which biotechnology has had an impact include:

  1. Medicine: Biotechnology has led to the development of new drugs, therapies, and diagnostic tools, including biopharmaceuticals, gene therapy, and personalized medicine.
  2. Agriculture: Biotechnology has led to the development of genetically modified crops that are more resistant to pests and environmental stresses, as well as more nutritious.
  3. Industrial Processes: Biotechnology has led to the development of new and more sustainable industrial processes, including the production of biofuels and bioplastics.
  4. Environmental Management: Biotechnology has applications in environmental management, including the bioremediation of contaminated soils and water, and the development of new methods for waste treatment and recycling.
  5. The global biotechnology market size was valued at USD 737.4 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.6% from 2021 to 2028.
  6. Biotechnology is used to develop life-saving drugs and vaccines, genetically modified crops that are resistant to pests and diseases, and renewable energy sources such as biofuels.

Applications of Biotechnology

Biotechnology is a rapidly growing field that has a wide range of applications in various sectors. Here are some of the key applications of biotechnology:

  1. Medical applications: Biotechnology has revolutionized the medical industry by providing new and improved methods of diagnosis and treatment. Some of the key medical applications of biotechnology include:
  • Vaccines: Biotechnology has enabled the development of highly effective vaccines for a range of diseases, including COVID-19. Vaccines work by triggering the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that protect against specific diseases.
    • According to a report by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, there are currently over 1,100 biotechnology products in clinical trials for various diseases and conditions.
  • Gene therapy: Biotechnology has enabled the development of gene therapy, a technique that uses genes to treat or prevent diseases. Gene therapy can be used to treat genetic disorders, cancer, and other diseases.
    • The use of gene therapy has shown promising results in treating rare genetic disorders. For example, Luxturna, a gene therapy developed by Spark Therapeutics, was approved by the US FDA in 2017 for the treatment of an inherited form of blindness.
    • In 2017, the FDA approved the first gene therapy product, Kymriah, for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • Personalized medicine: Biotechnology has enabled the development of personalized medicine, which tailors treatment to an individual’s specific genetic makeup. This can improve the effectiveness of treatment and reduce side effects.
    • Personalized medicine, which involves tailoring medical treatment to an individual’s genetic makeup, is becoming more prevalent. The global market for personalized medicine is expected to reach $3.4 trillion by 2025.
  1. Agricultural applications: Biotechnology has enabled the development of new and improved methods of crop production, pest control, and biofuel production. Some of the key agricultural applications of biotechnology include:
  • Genetically modified crops: Biotechnology has enabled the development of genetically modified crops that are more resistant to pests and diseases, require less water and fertilizer, and produce higher yields.
    • In 2019, 10 genetically modified crops were approved for cultivation in the US.
  • Biofuels: Biotechnology has enabled the development of biofuels, which are made from renewable resources such as plants and algae. Biofuels are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than fossil fuels.
    • The global market for biofuels is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.4% from 2020 to 2025, driven by increasing demand for renewable energy sources.
  • Pest control: Biotechnology is being used to develop new methods of pest control, such as genetically engineered mosquitoes that are unable to transmit diseases like dengue fever and Zika virus.
    • The use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) in genetically modified crops has led to a reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.
  1. Industrial applications: Biotechnology has enabled the development of new and improved methods of industrial production, including the production of bioplastics, enzymes, and bioremediation. Some of the key industrial applications of biotechnology include:
  • Bioplastics: Biotechnology has enabled the development of bioplastics, which are made from renewable resources such as plants and are biodegradable. Bioplastics are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than traditional plastics.
    • The global market for bioplastics is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.1% from 2020 to 2025.
  • Enzymes: Biotechnology has enabled the development of enzymes, which are used in a wide range of industrial processes, such as laundry detergent production and food processing.
  • Bioremediation: Biotechnology has enabled the development of bioremediation, which uses microorganisms to clean up pollutants in the environment.
    • For example, in 2010, microorganisms were used to help clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
  1. Environmental applications: Biotechnology has enabled the development of new and improved methods of environmental monitoring and remediation. Some of the key environmental applications of biotechnology include:
  • Biosensors: Biotechnology has enabled the development of biosensors, which are used to detect and monitor environmental pollutants and other substances.
    • For example, biosensors can be used to detect pollutants in water and air.
  • Bioreactors: Biotechnology has enabled the development of bioreactors, which are used to treat wastewater and other types of industrial waste.
  • Biodegradation: Biotechnology has enabled the development of methods to biodegrade pollutants in the environment, such as using microorganisms to break down oil spills.

Techniques and Tools in Biotechnology

Biotechnology relies on a range of techniques and tools to manipulate biological organisms and systems to create new products, processes, and applications.

  1. Genetic engineering: This is the process of manipulating the DNA of an organism to add, remove, or change its genetic makeup. Some of the key techniques used in genetic engineering include polymerase chain reaction (PCR), gene editing using CRISPR/Cas9, and synthetic biology. Genetic engineering has a wide range of applications, including the production of genetically modified crops and animals, the development of new medicines and therapies, and the creation of novel biomaterials.
    • PCR (polymerase chain reaction) has revolutionized modern molecular biology and has been used in numerous applications, from disease diagnosis to genetic research.
    • Gene editing, such as CRISPR-Cas9, has been used to modify genes in a wide range of organisms, from plants to humans. In 2020, two clinical trials for CRISPR-based gene therapy were approved by the US FDA, marking a major milestone in the field.
    • Synthetic biology involves designing and constructing new biological systems and organisms. This has potential applications in fields such as medicine, bioremediation, and renewable energy.
  2. Protein engineering: This involves the modification of proteins to enhance their properties, such as stability, activity, and specificity. Some of the key techniques used in protein engineering include recombinant protein expression and directed evolution. Protein engineering has numerous applications in biotechnology, including the development of new enzymes for industrial processes, the production of therapeutic proteins for the treatment of diseases, and the creation of novel protein-based materials.
    • Recombinant protein expression is used to produce large quantities of specific proteins, such as insulin for diabetes treatment, in a cost-effective way.
    • Directed evolution is a technique for engineering proteins to improve their function or properties. This has been used to develop new enzymes for industrial applications, such as bioplastics production.
  3. Analytical techniques: Biotechnology relies on a range of analytical techniques to study and understand biological systems. Some of the key analytical techniques used in biotechnology include mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, and bioinformatics. These techniques are used to analyze biological molecules and systems at the molecular level, which is critical for the development of new products and processes.
    • Mass spectrometry is a powerful tool for analyzing proteins and other molecules in complex mixtures. It has applications in drug discovery, disease diagnosis, and environmental monitoring.
    • NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) is used to determine the structure of molecules, including proteins and DNA. It has applications in drug development and basic research.
    • Bioinformatics involves using computer algorithms to analyze biological data, such as DNA and protein sequences. This has numerous applications, including drug discovery, crop improvement, and personalized medicine.
  4. Cell culture and fermentation: This involves the cultivation of cells and microorganisms in controlled environments to produce useful products. Some of the key tools used in cell culture and fermentation include bioreactors and tissue engineering techniques. Cell culture and fermentation have numerous applications in biotechnology, including the production of vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, and biofuels.
    • Bioreactors are used to culture cells and microorganisms for various applications, such as drug production and biomanufacturing.
    • Tissue engineering involves growing cells on artificial scaffolds to create functional tissues and organs. This has potential applications in regenerative medicine and transplantation.

Gene Editing

Gene editing is a form of genetic engineering that allows for the addition, deletion, alteration, or replacement of DNA in the genome of a living organism. This process differs from earlier genetic engineering techniques in that it specifically targets certain areas of the genome, rather than randomly inserting genetic material into a host genome. The CRISPR-Cas9 system is one of the most precise, efficient, and rapid methods of gene editing.

Benefits of gene editing:

  • Genome editing can modify any DNA sequence, in bacteria, plants, animals, or humans.
  • It has the potential to transform healthcare, food scarcity, and environmental concerns.
  • Gene editing in agriculture can increase crop yields, enhance resistance to disease and pests, and improve tolerance to different environmental conditions.
  • Industrial biotechnology can use gene editing to create third-generation biofuels, as well as to produce chemicals, materials, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Biomedicine can benefit from gene editing through the development of pharmaceuticals, gene and cell-based therapies, xenotransplantation, and the control of insect-borne diseases.
  • Gene editing can prevent the inheritance of disease traits in reproduction, and help in the treatment of blood-related disorders such as hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, and Beta-Thalassemia.
  • Gene editing technologies have the potential to drive economic growth in India over the next decade.

However, there are several issues with gene editing that need to be addressed before its widespread use:

  • Safety is a significant concern due to the possibility of off-target effects and mosaicism.
  • In the human germline, unpredictable changes can be passed on to subsequent generations, raising concerns about genome editing safety.
  • Ecological impacts may arise when a gene drive propagates a set of genes with negative traits throughout a population, potentially leading to the extinction of the entire targeted population.
  • It is more difficult to identify a genetically modified organism outside the lab due to the precision of genetic modifications obtained through CRISPR-Cas9 techniques, making the regulation of these organisms in the market more challenging.
  • There is currently no regulating body in place to oversee the technology’s practices and applications, which may result in a lack of transparency, low quality, and delays in patient treatment.
  • Uncontrolled clinical trials can lead to unethical and unsafe practices.

The gene editing debate has been ongoing for a long time, and it is vital to encourage gene editing to enhance the field of science and improve the quality of life for individuals. At the same time, international communities need to develop standard guidelines to determine acceptable and unacceptable risks.


  • India’s current regulatory architecture for approving novel treatments is unclear and assigns overlapping functions to different government bodies, necessitating restructuring to optimize trial approval time while also addressing safety requirements.
  • A two-step model, consisting of a national apex committee working with existing institutional ethics committees and independent accreditation agencies, should be developed, and the government should collaborate with industry and research groups to expedite clinical research.
  • India has numerous strengths and competitive advantages in the bioinformatics sector, making it a sunrise industry of India.
  • Before any large-scale routine application in humans, a significant amount of research on animal models and isolated human cells must be conducted.


CRISPR Cas9 is a powerful gene editing tool that has revolutionized the field of genetics.

CRISPR Cas9 is a revolutionary technology that has made it possible to edit genes with unprecedented precision, efficiency, and ease. It has the potential to transform the way we treat genetic diseases, produce food, and even address climate change. CRISPR, short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a natural defense mechanism that bacteria use to protect themselves from invading viruses. It is a system of genetic elements that can recognize and destroy viral DNA.

  • The system consists of two main components: the CRISPR RNA (crRNA) and the Cas9 protein.
  • The crRNA acts like a GPS to locate the target gene, while the Cas9 protein acts like a pair of molecular scissors to cut the DNA at the desired location.

How does CRISPR Cas9 work?

  1. Identifying the target DNA sequence: The first step in CRISPR Cas9 is to identify the target DNA sequence that needs to be edited. This is done by designing a guide RNA that is complementary to the target sequence.
  2. Formation of a complex: The guide RNA forms a complex with the Cas9 enzyme, which is an endonuclease that can cut DNA. The guide RNA serves as a homing beacon for the Cas9 enzyme, bringing it to the precise location of the target DNA sequence.
  3. DNA cleavage: Once the complex has located the target DNA sequence, the Cas9 enzyme cleaves the DNA at a specific location. This generates a double-stranded break in the DNA.
  4. Repair of DNA: After the DNA is cleaved, the cell’s natural repair mechanisms come into play. There are two ways in which the DNA can be repaired – Non-Homologous End Joining (NHEJ) or Homology-Directed Repair (HDR).
  5. Non-Homologous End Joining (NHEJ): This is the most common type of repair mechanism. It involves the rejoining of the two broken ends of DNA by a process that often results in the introduction of small insertions or deletions (indels) at the site of the break. These indels can result in frameshift mutations that can inactivate the gene.
  6. Homology-Directed Repair (HDR): This is a less common repair mechanism that requires a donor DNA template that is homologous to the target DNA sequence. HDR can be used to introduce precise changes to the DNA sequence by providing a DNA template that contains the desired changes.
  7. Editing the DNA sequence: By using either NHEJ or HDR, the CRISPR Cas9 system can be used to make specific changes to the DNA sequence. This can involve introducing mutations, knocking out genes, or inserting new DNA sequences.

What are the potential applications of CRISPR Cas9?

  • CRISPR Cas9 has the potential to revolutionize many areas of science and medicine, including agriculture, biotechnology, and human health.
    • In agriculture, CRISPR Cas9 can be used to create crops that are more resistant to pests, diseases, and environmental stressors, leading to increased yields and improved food security.
    • In biotechnology, CRISPR Cas9 can be used to develop new drugs, create more efficient biofuels, and produce other chemicals and materials.
    • In human health, CRISPR Cas9 has the potential to be used to treat a wide range of genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, as well as certain types of cancer.

What are the ethical and safety concerns surrounding CRISPR Cas9?

  • One of the biggest concerns surrounding CRISPR Cas9 is the potential for unintended consequences and off-target effects, which could lead to unintended genetic changes or harmful mutations.
  • There are also concerns about the potential for the technology to be used for unethical purposes, such as creating so-called “designer babies” or enhancing human traits beyond what is considered normal or desirable.
  • As with any new technology, there is a need to carefully consider the potential risks and benefits of CRISPR Cas9 before it is widely adopted, and to establish clear guidelines and regulations to ensure its safe and ethical use.

CRISPR Cas9 and Agriculture

  • CRISPR Cas9 can be used to edit the genomes of agricultural crops to improve their characteristics, such as:
    • Increased resistance to pests and diseases
    • Improved tolerance to environmental stresses such as drought, salinity, and extreme temperatures
    • Increased yield and nutritional content
  • One example of the successful application of CRISPR Cas9 in agriculture is the creation of a new variety of mushrooms that do not brown as quickly as traditional varieties. This was achieved by using CRISPR Cas9 to edit the genes responsible for the browning process.
  • Another example is the use of CRISPR Cas9 to produce tomatoes that ripen more slowly, allowing them to be transported over longer distances without spoiling. This was achieved by editing the genes that regulate the ripening process.
  • In addition to improving crop characteristics, CRISPR Cas9 can also be used to produce more sustainable agricultural practices, such as:
    • Developing crops that require fewer pesticides or fertilizers
    • Engineering crops that can grow in soil with high levels of salt or other contaminants
    • Creating crops that can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers
  • CRISPR Cas9 has the potential to revolutionize agriculture by providing a more precise and efficient method of genetic modification than traditional breeding methods.

CRISPR Cas9 and Biotechnology

CRISPR Cas9 has potential applications in industrial biotechnology. Here are some ways it can be used:

  • Third-generation biofuels: CRISPR Cas9 can help develop third-generation biofuels that have higher energy yields, lower environmental impacts, and can be produced at lower costs. It can be used to modify the genetic code of algae, which can be used to produce biofuels, plastics, and chemicals.
  • Chemicals and materials: CRISPR Cas9 can be used to develop new chemicals and materials. For instance, it can be used to engineer bacteria to produce biodegradable plastics or enzymes that can be used to break down plastics and other pollutants.
  • Pharmaceuticals: CRISPR Cas9 can be used to develop new pharmaceuticals. It can help create more efficient drug delivery systems, improve drug potency, and target specific diseases.
  • Agricultural biotechnology: CRISPR Cas9 can also be used in agricultural biotechnology to develop crops that are resistant to pests, diseases, and environmental stresses. It can help increase crop yields, improve the nutritional content of food, and reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Gene Therapy

Gene therapy is an experimental medical treatment that involves the delivery of genetic material to cells or tissues of a patient to correct or replace defective genes. It holds immense potential in the field of medicine, particularly in the treatment of genetic disorders, infectious diseases, and cancer. Gene therapy has come a long way since the first gene transfer experiments in the 1980s, and today, it is one of the fastest-growing areas of biomedical research.

Gene therapy is a promising field of medicine that has the potential to cure a wide range of genetic disorders. It involves the transfer of genetic material to a patient’s cells to correct or replace the abnormal genes responsible for causing the disease. Gene therapy can be categorized into four types: Germ Line Gene Therapy, Somatic Gene Therapy, In Vivo Gene Therapy, and Ex Vivo Gene Therapy.

  1. Germ Line Gene Therapy:

Germ Line Gene Therapy involves the modification of genes in sperm or egg cells. The aim is to introduce a genetic modification that can be passed on to future generations. It is a controversial approach as it could have unintended consequences and ethical implications. Currently, there is a voluntary worldwide moratorium on human germline gene therapy.

  1. Somatic Gene Therapy:

Somatic Gene Therapy involves the transfer of genetic material into the cells of the body that are not involved in reproduction, such as blood, skin, or muscle cells. The aim is to correct or replace the genes responsible for causing a specific disorder. Somatic gene therapy is considered safer than germ-line gene therapy since it does not affect future generations. It has been used in clinical trials to treat various diseases, including cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and certain types of cancer.

  1. In Vivo Gene Therapy:

In Vivo Gene Therapy involves the direct transfer of genetic material into the cells of the patient’s body. The genetic material can be delivered to the target cells using a variety of methods, including viral vectors, non-viral vectors, and electroporation. In Vivo Gene Therapy is less invasive than ex vivo gene therapy and has the advantage of targeting specific organs or tissues. It has been used to treat a range of diseases, including hemophilia, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.

  1. Ex Vivo Gene Therapy:

Ex Vivo Gene Therapy involves the transfer of genetic material to cells that have been removed from the patient’s body. The cells are then manipulated in the laboratory to introduce the genetic modification before being returned to the patient’s body. Ex Vivo Gene Therapy is usually more invasive than In Vivo Gene Therapy, but it can be more effective in treating certain diseases. It has been used to treat genetic disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).

Challenges in Gene Therapy

  1. Delivery: One of the main challenges of gene therapy is delivering the therapeutic genes to the appropriate cells in the body. Scientists need to find effective ways to deliver the genetic material into cells without causing harm or triggering an immune response.
  2. Targeting: Another challenge is targeting the specific cells or tissues that need to be treated. Different types of cells and tissues may require different delivery methods or vectors, and the therapeutic genes may need to be delivered to multiple sites in the body to be effective.
  3. Immune response: The immune system can recognize the foreign genetic material and mount an immune response, which can limit the effectiveness of the therapy or cause harm to the patient.
  4. Off-target effects: Gene therapy can potentially cause unintended effects if the inserted genes integrate into the wrong location in the genome or interfere with other genes or cellular processes.
  5. Safety: Gene therapy is a complex and still relatively new technology, and there is still much to learn about its long-term safety and potential risks.
  6. Cost: Gene therapy is currently a very expensive treatment, and the high cost may limit access for some patients.
  7. Ethics: There are also ethical concerns about the use of gene therapy, such as the potential for eugenics or genetic enhancement, and the need to ensure that the technology is used responsibly and fairly.

Mitochondrial Gene Therapy

Mitochondrial gene therapy is a type of gene therapy that aims to treat genetic diseases caused by mutations in the genes found in the mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles in our cells. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited exclusively from the mother, and mutations in mtDNA can cause a variety of diseases, including Leigh syndrome, MELAS syndrome, and Kearns-Sayre syndrome.

There are two main approaches to mitochondrial gene therapy:

  1. Mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT): In MRT, the nucleus of an egg or embryo from a woman with mitochondrial disease is transferred to an egg or embryo from a healthy donor. This procedure results in an embryo with nuclear DNA from the intended parents and mitochondrial DNA from the donor. MRT has been used successfully in animals, and in 2016, the UK became the first country to approve MRT for use in humans.
  2. Gene editing: In gene editing, the faulty mitochondrial DNA is either repaired or replaced using CRISPR-Cas9 or other gene-editing techniques. This approach is still in the early stages of development and has not yet been used in humans.

Mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) is a technique that involves replacing the defective mitochondrial DNA in a woman’s egg or embryo with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a donor. This results in an embryo that inherits most of its DNA from the parents who supplied the egg and sperm, but a small percentage of the mitochondrial DNA comes from the donor.

Mitochondria are essential for generating energy in cells, and while a child’s DNA is a combination of genetic material from both parents, mitochondria only come from the mother.

Mitochondrial disease is a rare genetic condition caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA, which can lead to severe and life-threatening health problems. One potential treatment for women with mitochondrial disease is to replace their defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy DNA via in vitro fertilization (IVF). This involves removing the nucleus from the woman’s egg and transferring it to a donor egg that has had its nucleus removed. The resulting embryo is fertilized with sperm and implanted in the woman’s uterus.

Genome Sequencing

Genome sequencing is the process of determining the exact sequence of nucleotides, which are the building blocks of DNA, in an individual’s genome. The genome is the complete set of genetic information that an organism possesses, and sequencing this information can provide insight into an individual’s unique genetic makeup.

Genome sequencing involves breaking the DNA into small fragments and then reading the sequence of nucleotides in each fragment. These fragments are then assembled to create a complete picture of the genome. There are several methods for genome sequencing, including whole genome sequencing, which sequences an individual’s entire genome, and targeted sequencing, which focuses on specific regions of the genome.

Methods of Genome Sequencing

Whole Genome Sequencing

  • Reads the entire genome of an organism
  • Involves breaking down the DNA into small fragments and reading the sequence of nucleotides in each fragment
  • Fragments are then assembled to create a complete picture of the genome
  • Can identify novel genetic mutations associated with disease
  • Can be used to identify rare genetic diseases or to understand the genetic basis of complex diseases
  • Increasingly accessible and affordable

Targeted Sequencing

  • Focuses on specific regions of the genome
  • Uses probes or primers to selectively capture and amplify the target regions of interest
  • Can be used to sequence a specific set of genes, genomic regions, or specific loci
  • Less comprehensive than whole genome sequencing
  • Can be more cost-effective and efficient
  • Popular method for research and clinical use
  • Can be used to sequence specific regions of the genome that are associated with a particular disease or trait
  • Useful for identifying genetic mutations that may be responsible for a particular disease
  • Can be used to analyze specific regions of the genome, such as the exome (protein-coding regions of the genome)

Genome Sequencing Initiatives by India


  • GENOME India is a national initiative launched in 2019 by the Indian government with the aim of sequencing the genomes of one million Indians.
  • The initiative is being led by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in collaboration with other research institutions and healthcare organizations.
  • The goal of GENOME India is to create a comprehensive genomic database of the Indian population that can be used to study genetic variations, identify disease risk factors, and develop personalized healthcare solutions.
  • The initiative is expected to provide a major boost to the country’s healthcare and biotech sectors and support the development of new diagnostics, treatments, and drug discovery efforts.
  • The GENOME India project is based on a multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary approach, with the involvement of experts from genomics, genetics, bioinformatics, and clinical research fields.

IndiGen Project

The IndiGen project aims to carry out genome sequencing of 1008 Indian individuals to create a pilot database of carrier genetic diseases that enables an affordable carrier screening approach in India. The project’s main objective is to utilize the human genome dataset to prioritize treatments for genetic diseases specific to the Indian population. The IndiGen project provides numerous advantages, including:

  • Tracing the origin of specific diseases by studying DNA data from patients who suffer from them.
  • Providing useful data on the predisposition of various diseases common in a particular subgroup by researching a specific and significant set of samples derived from a population sub-group.
  • Improving diagnostics and ensuring better treatment for victims of rare diseases by analyzing genomic data and reviewing the resulting medical information to reveal the mutations that are the root cause of the disease.
  • Offering a unique opportunity to explore the landscape of pharmacogenetic (PGx) variants associated with differential COVID-19 response among Indians by population-scale whole genome sequencing of Indian genomes (IndiGen project), particularly important for India as it is one of the worst affected countries in the world.
  • Identifying rare genetic diseases from various ethnic groups in the country, is the first step towards delivering precision medicine for the Indian population.


  • Cloning is the process of creating a genetically identical copy of an organism.
    • This can be done naturally (asexual reproduction) or artificially (using advanced scientific techniques).
  • Artificial cloning can be achieved using one of the following techniques:
    • Embryo cloning: This is the process of splitting an early-stage embryo to create multiple embryos that are genetically identical to the original embryo.
    • Adult DNA cloning: This is the process of replacing the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell with the nucleus of a somatic cell from an adult animal, which can develop into an embryo and eventually, an identical clone of the adult animal.
  • Cloning has been used in various fields, including:
    • Medical research: Cloning animals has helped researchers study diseases and test new treatments.
    • Agriculture: Cloning animals has been used to improve livestock and produce higher-quality meat and dairy products.
    • Conservation: Cloning endangered animals can help prevent the extinction of certain species.
    • Reproductive technology: Cloning can be used to help infertile couples have children.
  • There are several ethical concerns associated with cloning, including:
    • The potential for abuse, such as using cloning to create human beings with specific traits.
    • The possibility of physical and psychological harm to the cloned animal.
    • The potential impact on genetic diversity and the environment.

Methods of Cloning

There are three main methods of cloning:

  1. Gene cloning:
    • This method involves the creation of copies of a specific gene or DNA sequence using recombinant DNA technology.
    • The gene of interest is isolated and inserted into a vector, such as a plasmid or a virus, which is then introduced into a host cell.
    • The host cell will then replicate the vector and, as a result, produce multiple copies of the inserted gene.
  2. Reproductive cloning:
    • This method involves the creation of an organism that is genetically identical to the donor organism.
    • A somatic cell, such as a skin cell, is taken from the donor organism, and the nucleus is removed.
    • The nucleus from the somatic cell is then inserted into an enucleated egg cell, and the resulting embryo is implanted into a surrogate mother for gestation.
  3. Therapeutic cloning:
    • This method involves the creation of embryonic stem cells for medical research and treatment.
    • A somatic cell is taken from the donor organism and the nucleus is removed.
    • The nucleus from the somatic cell is then inserted into an enucleated egg cell, and the resulting embryo is allowed to develop for a short period of time.
    • Stem cells are then harvested from the embryo for use in medical research and treatment.

Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy is a medical treatment that involves using stem cells to prevent, treat, or cure a disease or medical condition.

  • Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the ability to develop into specialized cells that make up various tissues and organs in the body.
  • The therapy is based on the idea that these cells can be manipulated and guided to become specific types of cells that are required to repair or regenerate damaged or diseased tissue.
  • Stem cells can be harvested from various sources, including embryos, bone marrow, adipose tissue, and umbilical cord blood.
  • Once the stem cells are obtained, they can be processed and cultured in a laboratory to increase their numbers and to direct them to differentiate into the desired type of cells.
  • The resulting cells can then be injected or transplanted into the patient, where they can replace damaged or diseased cells and promote tissue repair and regeneration.

Types of Stem Cell Therapy

  1. Autologous stem cell therapy: This type of therapy involves using a patient’s own stem cells for treatment. The cells are typically taken from the patient’s bone marrow, adipose tissue, or blood, and then processed and administered back to the patient.
  2. Allogeneic stem cell therapy: Allogeneic stem cell therapy involves using stem cells from a donor, typically a close family member or unrelated individual, for treatment. The cells are carefully matched to minimize the risk of rejection by the patient’s immune system.
  3. Xenogeneic stem cell therapy: This type of therapy involves using stem cells from different species, such as pigs, for treatment. It is still in the experimental phase and has not been widely used in humans.
  4. Induced pluripotent stem cell therapy: This therapy involves reprogramming adult cells to become pluripotent stem cells, which can then differentiate into various types of cells. These cells can be used for personalized therapies, as they can be made from the patient’s own cells.
  5. Umbilical cord stem cell therapy: This type of therapy uses stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood and tissue. These cells are collected after a baby is born and can be stored for later use in medical treatments.
  6. Embryonic stem cell therapy: This therapy uses stem cells derived from embryos. It is a controversial type of therapy because it involves the destruction of embryos, and its use is heavily regulated in many countries.

GM Crops

What are GM Crops?

  • Genetically modified organisms have genetic material altered in a way that does not occur in natural recombination.
  • In India, all GM crops require approval from the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for commercial production.

Arguments for GM Crops

  • GM crops can address food security challenges by helping farmers grow more food.
  • BT cotton is a successful example, with two billion hectares planted in 28 countries since 1996.
  • High-yield oilseeds engineered for semi-arid zones can help India reduce its dependence on imports.
  • Farmers can benefit from higher yields and income while decreasing the use of pesticides and herbicides.
  • GM crops can be engineered to withstand weather fluctuations and extremes.
  • People around the world have been consuming biotech crops for more than 20 years.

Arguments against GM Crops

  • GM crops can cause long-term consequences on human health, such as the classification of glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization.
  • GMOs are self-replicating organisms and cause genetic contamination of the environment, which cannot be reversed.
  • The impact on health, environment, soil, groundwater, or food chain is unknown.
  • The seed stock will also be contaminated at the molecular level.
  • GM crops can make farmers susceptible to the practices of MNCs and raise the cost of cultivation and put them in a debt trap.
  • Regulation is not effective and a conflict of interest is present.
  • The lack of transparency in the regulatory process amplifies apprehensions.

Concerns / Challenges

  • Major opposition to GM crops can be stated as a trust deficit and a sense of precaution.
  • Lack of transparency in the regulatory process and conflict of interest are major reasons.
  • Organizations trying to commercialize GM crops are involved in testing their safety through field trials in India.
  • Data is also secretive, and there are concerns about loss of food biodiversity if corporate food varieties begin to flood the markets.
  • The pesticide industry’s efforts to influence policymakers and regulators have obstructed reforms globally.

Way Forward

  • The government needs to improve infrastructure and access to funds and spur innovation.
  • India needs to reform its regulatory structure to expedite approvals and make it easier to conduct research.
  • Promoting indigenous gene editing research is important to make treatments available at affordable prices.
  • Clinical trials need to be contingent on robust demonstration of safety and efficacy.
  • A two-step model wherein the government works with industry and research groups to accelerate clinical research is recommended.
  • Responsible use of gene editing could be the remedy for some of India’s problems, tailoring this cutting-edge tool to its own requirements, and ensuring affordable healthcare to its people.


Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that applies information technology to study living things, particularly at the molecular level. It involves using computers to collect, organize, and analyze biological data to answer questions in fields like evolutionary biology.

Bioinformatics and its Progress in India

Some key points about bioinformatics and its progress in India are:

  • Bioinformatics is essential to the growth of biotechnology, as it enables the analysis and interpretation of vast amounts of biological data. The genomic revolution and other advances in biotechnology would be slow and limited without the application of bioinformatics.
  • Indian Bioinformatics companies, such as Infosys, Cognizant Technologies, and HCL, have made significant progress in the sector. Pure-play bioinformatics companies like Strand Genomics are also emerging.
  • The Indian government, through organizations like the Biotechnology Information System and the Department of Biotechnology, is promoting bioinformatics and has identified it as a priority area. Tax incentives have been provided to develop the bioinformatics sector. The establishment of Bio-IT parks and new biotech policy has acted as a growth catalyst for the bioinformatics sector.
  • Some of India’s key achievements in bioinformatics include:
    • Successfully completing the Human Genome Project in 2009, putting India on par with the US, the UK, Canada, China, and Korea.
    • Developing the Biotechnology Information System network (BTISnet) in 1987, making India the first country to build such a network.
    • Formulating the Bioinformatics Policy of India (BPI) in 2004.
    • Developing a mechanism for exchanging information in bioinformatics within SAARC member countries.
    • Having more trained bioinformaticists than any other country in the world.
    • Enjoying double-digit growth in the bioinformatics sector.
    • Being among the preferred locations for Contract Research Organizations (CROs) and Contract Manufacturing Organizations (CTOs) for drug development, thanks to low-cost R&D and availability of knowledge resources.


  • Biosimilars are biological medical products that are almost identical copies of original products, manufactured by a different company after the original product’s patent has expired.
  • Biosimilars are the generic versions of biological medicines made from animal or plant proteins as opposed to chemicals.
  • Biosimilars differ from generics in complexity, manufacturing processes, and the data required for approval.
  • The regulatory procedure for approving biosimilars is more complex than for generics.
  • Biosimilars have the potential to fill the gap created by expiring patents of biologics and can be targeted toward non-communicable diseases such as cancer, asthma, and arthritis.
  • Biosimilars can be more affordable than biologics, making them accessible to more patients.
  • Challenges faced in biosimilar development include lengthy and expensive development timelines, lack of investor interest, and the need for expertise in biology.
  • Governments can support growth in the biosimilar industry by clarifying regulatory frameworks and investing in education and fundamental research.
  • Appropriate monitoring is necessary to prevent unfair and unethical practices in biosimilar preparation.

Difference between Biosimilars and Generics:

  • Biosimilars involve developing an equivalent of a biological entity, while generics involve developing an equivalent of a chemical entity, the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API).
  • Biosimilars must be engineered to produce the same therapeutic effect as the original product, while copies of APIs can be generated for generics.
  • Biosimilars have a more complex structure with potential structural variations, while generics have a simple and well-defined structure.

Prospects of Biosimilars:

  • The growth of the biologics market has created a global opportunity for biosimilars, particularly in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and auto-immune diseases.
  • Many Indian pharma companies are investing in biosimilar development to gain a first-mover advantage.
  • Biosimilars can fill the gap created by high-priced biologics and can be targeted toward non-communicable diseases such as cancer, asthma, and arthritis.
  • Biosimilars can act as a springboard for pharma companies to innovate, excel, and earn profits.

Challenges faced:

  • Biosimilar development is lengthy and expensive, and the product may hit the market only after six or seven years, which can deter investor interest and drive consolidation among players.
  • Expertise in biology is essential, and India has fewer research labs in biology compared to big states in Europe or the US, although the situation has improved in the last ten years.

Way forward:

  • Governments can support the biosimilar industry by clarifying regulatory frameworks and investing in education and fundamental research.
  • Appropriate monitoring is necessary to prevent unfair and unethical practices in biosimilar preparation.


Bioplastics are developed from biomass (plants), such as corn, sugarcane, vegetable oil, or wood pulp. They can be biodegraded into natural substances like water, carbon dioxide, and compost by the action of microorganisms in the environment. They are considered as an alternative to plastic to reduce the problem of plastic waste that is contaminating the environment.

Types of Bioplastics:

  • Cellulose-based plastics: made from wood pulp and used for making film-based materials such as wrappers.
  • Thermoplastics: starch-based plastics, used for the production of drug capsules.
  • Polylactic Acid (PLA): made from the fermentation of starch from crops, used for preparing computer and mobile phone casings, cups, bottles, and other packaging.
  • Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB): used for making banknotes and car parts, etc.
  • Polyamide 11 (PA 11): made from vegetable oils, used for making oil and gas flexible pipes and electrical anti-termite cable sheathing.
  • Photo-degradable plastic: degrades on exposure to light.

Positive Impacts of Bioplastics:

  • Environment: Bioplastics are better than petro plastics in terms of fossil-fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy efficiency.
  • Easy to recycle and non-toxic.
  • They reduce carbon footprint, do not involve the consumption of non-renewable raw materials, and reduce non-biodegradable waste that contaminates the environment.
  • They do not contain additives that are harmful to health, such as phthalates or bisphenol A.
  • They do not change the flavor or scent of the food contained.
  • Biopolymers are already becoming popular in cities throughout Europe and the United States for ecological reasons.

Negative Impacts of Bioplastics:

  • Cost and applicability: bioplastics are inferior to petro plastics.
  • Bioplastic production requires almost 80% of the energy required to produce common plastic.
  • Only 40% of the bioplastic samples cleared the test for biodegradability conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board in 2009.
  • Compostable plastics would take around 40 days to compost during which time they could already have been ingested by several small animal forms, with a likely injurious impact.
  • Bioplastics claim biodegradability on exposure to water, but it takes six months for the plastic to disintegrate and biodegrade. This leaves the plastic to contaminate the seas for six months and more.
  • If bioplastics touch the bottom of the sea, they may not degrade at all because it is much colder than 30 degrees Celsius that is their ideal degradation temperature.
  • Microplastics cause extreme damage to marine life.
  • People cannot differentiate bioplastics from regular plastics in the trash. In India, there is hardly any segregation of wet and dry waste, so it is unlikely that even the best bioplastics will be pulled out for treatment.
  • Not all bioplastics are biodegradable.


  • Biofuels are hydrocarbon fuels produced from organic matter in a short period of time.
  • Solid, liquid, and gaseous forms of biofuels are available.

Classification of biofuels

  • 1st generation: Made from food crops like sugar, starch, or vegetable oil
  • 2nd generation: Produced from sustainable feedstocks
  • 3rd generation: Derived from algae
  • 4th generation: Produced using genetically engineered crops

Initiatives by the Government of India to promote biofuels:

  • Administrative price mechanism for ethanol
  • Simplifying procurement procedures for oil marketing companies
  • Amending provisions of the Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951
  • Enabling lignocellulosic route for ethanol procurement
  • National Policy on Biofuels-2018

Salient features of the National Biofuels Policy 2018:

  • Categorization of biofuels into Basic and Advanced Biofuels
  • Expanding the scope of raw materials for ethanol production
  • Allowing the use of surplus food grains for ethanol production
  • Encouraging the production of advanced biofuels
  • Promoting supply chain mechanisms for biodiesel production

Potential benefits of biofuels:

  • Reducing import dependency on crude oil and saving foreign exchange
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter
  • Encouraging municipal solid waste management
  • Spurring infrastructural investment in rural areas
  • Creating job opportunities
  • Providing additional income to farmers

Critical analysis of biofuels:

  • Possibility of abuse of policy when crude oil prices soar
  • Need for improvement in the technological and financial feasibility of biofuels
  • Inadequate supply-chain infrastructure
  • Limits on private investment

Way forward:

  • Setting ambitious goals for the energy sector
  • Encouraging research and development of new technologies for biofuels
  • Developing robust infrastructure
  • Removing policy barriers that discourage private investment

Ethanol blending program in India

  • Ethanol is a biofuel produced by processing organic matter and is renewable.
  • In India, it is mainly derived from sugarcane via fermentation.
  • Ethanol can be blended with fuel to reduce emissions and import bills.

Need for Ethanol blending in India

  • Reduces auto fuel import bill by $4 billion annually
  • Provides extra income for farmers growing produce used for ethanol production
  • Ethanol is less polluting than other fuels and offers equivalent efficiency at a lower cost than petrol
  • Ethanol-blended petrol decreases emissions such as CO, HC, and NOx
  • E20 fuel offers higher reductions in CO emissions

Challenges involved

  • Domestic production of bioethanol is not sufficient to meet the demand
  • Sugar mills cannot invest in biofuel plants due to financial instability
  • Concerns about the uncertainty of future bioethanol prices
  • Vehicles need to be produced with compatible rubberized parts, plastic components, and elastomers
  • India lags behind top producers, USA and Brazil, in terms of water usage efficiency
  • Sugarcane availability is limited, and diverting land for sugarcane production may affect other crops
  • Lack of alternatives for bioethanol production
  • Ethanol being a highly flammable liquid requires safety measures during production, storage, and transportation

Proposed solutions and recommendations

  • Roll out E20 material-compliant and E10 engine-tuned vehicles from April 2023
  • Production of E20-tuned vehicles should reach 80% by April 2025
  • Production of bioethanol from other sources such as surplus food crops and crop residue should be encouraged
  • The development of biorefinery capacity for producing biofuels from non-food crops should be increased
  • Incentivize investors to invest in biofuel plants
  • Increase public awareness about the benefits of using biofuels


  • Ethanol blending in India has multiple benefits, but challenges such as limited production and sugarcane availability need to be addressed
  • The government’s proposed solutions can help India achieve its goal of 20% ethanol blending by 2025 and reduce emissions and import bills.

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